With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we have turned our attention to the offseason. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: DL Keeanu Benton
Stock Value: Purchased
Reasoning: The Steelers used their second of two selections in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft to address the defensive line, selecting Keeanu Benton out of Wisconsin. He is the first defensive lineman they have selected in the first two rounds since Stephon Tuitt in 2014.
Those who wanted the Steelers to prioritize the defensive line early got their wish this weekend, the team using one of their two picks in the second round to bring Keeanu Benton out of Wisconsin into the growing defensive line room.
According to defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the intention is to start him out at nose tackle, but the Steelers believe he can move around and play a high number of snaps. His strength is stopping the run, but he has an upside as a pass rusher that Benton believes this Steelers staff can help him develop.
There’s a good chance he is a day one starter, provided that the Steelers open a game in a 3-4 look. Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi are fixed into the two “end” positions along the line, the latter re-signing this offseason on a three-year deal, but Benton’s competition to play nose tackle is not exactly insurmountable.
In fact, the Steelers don’t currently have a nose tackle on this roster who has ever entered a season as a starter. Montravius Adams has been a starter for Pittsburgh, but that was only as a Plan B. He took over last season after Tyson Alualu was demoted.
Right now, Adams’ name would be on the top of any depth chart they make. They also brought in Breiden Fehoko, who is more of a pure run stopper, via free agency. Armon Watts is a less traditional defensive tackle, more of a three-tech ideally whose upside is as a pass rusher.
But the Steelers have given themselves options, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the long run. They still have last year’s third-round pick, DeMarvin Leal, to figure out. With Heyward, Ogunjobi, Leal, Adams, and now Benton, the roster spots are getting limited.
Fehoko, Watts and third-year end Isaiahh Loudermilk are not guaranteed anything. They may be fighting for one spot, or possibly two if the Steelers decide to carry seven, which they appear to be increasingly open to. Perhaps not even Adams should be listed in that above group. He’ll have to earn his spot just the same, and Benton’s presence will make that tougher.